Apple today kicked off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) with the traditional keynote presentation.
As was the case last year, WWDC 2021 is an all-virtual event, with the keynote consisting of prerecorded video presentations that focused primarily on the next major revisions of Apple's operating systems for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch. What we didn't get today, was any hardware news, so those waiting to place an order for the much-anticipated redesigned MacBook Pro will have to wait a little longer.
Read on for our summary of some highlights of today's announcements.
iOS 15 and iPadOS 15
Many of the below features will be coming to both iOS and iPadOS, so it makes sense to discuss the two platforms together. However, we will state where Apple has indicated that a feature will be only available on one of the platforms.
Last year there were plenty of leaks ahead of WWDC which left Apple with very few surprises to Spring. This year Apple did a much better job of keeping things under wraps.
What we got today included news of major updates to FaceTime and Notifications, Live Text using on-device intelligence, Home Screen and multitasking improvements for the iPad, and enhancements for Safari, Maps, Weather, and Wallet.
Apple is making some major enhancements to FaceTime, which it says will make calls feel more natural. This includes support for spatial audio, which should make voices in a FaceTime call sound as if they are coming from where the person is positioned on the screen. Additionally, new microphone modes separate the user’s voice from background noise.
Portrait mode is also coming to FaceTime, and designed specifically for video calls, so users can blur their background and put themselves in focus.
While using Group FaceTime, a new grid view enables participants to see more faces at the same time.
A new FaceTime feature called SharePlay will allow users to share experiences, including listening to songs together with Apple Music, watching a TV show or movie in sync, or sharing their screen to view apps together.
SharePlay works across iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and with shared playback controls, anyone in a SharePlay session can play, pause, or jump ahead.
SharePlay will also be supported on Apple TV, so users can watch shows or movies on a big screen while connecting over FaceTime, and SharePlay will keep everyone’s playback in sync. Among those already planning to support SharePlay are Disney+, ESPN+, HBO Max, Hulu, MasterClass, Paramount+, Pluto TV, TikTok, and Twitch.
FaceTime calls will also be extending beyond Apple devices with the ability to create a link from iPhone, iPad, or Mac, and share it through Messages, Calendar, Mail, or third-party apps, so people will be able to join a FaceTime call from their web browser on Android and Windows devices.
Apple stressed that FaceTime calls on the web remain end-to-end encrypted, so privacy is not compromised.
Focus is a new feature coming to iOS, iPadOS, and macOS that filters notifications and apps based on what a user wants to focus on.
You can set your device to help to be in what Apple calls “the moment” by creating a custom Focus or selecting a suggested Focus, which uses on-device intelligence to suggest which people and apps are allowed to notify you.
Focus suggestions are based on users’ context, like during work hours or while they’re winding down for bed, and when Focus is set on one Apple device, it automatically applies to their other Apple devices. Users can create Home Screen pages with apps and widgets that apply to moments of focus to only display relevant apps and reduce temptation.
When a user’s Focus is blocking incoming notifications, their status is automatically displayed to others in Messages, reflecting that a user is not currently reachable.
Messages is gaining a “Shared With You” feature That will save in a dedicated section of the News app any stories shared with you via Messages. It works in Apple Music, too, with a dedicated section for content shared to you.
The Photos app has a similar section, with shared images saved automatically. Apple says that the feature will be able to prevent images such as screenshots from automatically being saved to Photos.
Shared With You works in Safari, Apple Podcasts, and the Apple TV app as well.
Additionally, Messages gains a collage design for sharing multiple photos within a conversation.
An Overhaul of Notifications
The notifications system is to receive a major overhaul in iOS 15, adding contact photos for people and larger icons for apps that's intended to make them easier to identify.
To help reduce distraction, a new notification summary collects non-time-critical notifications for delivery at a more opportune time, such as in the morning and evening. Using on-device intelligence, notifications are arranged by priority, with the most relevant notifications rising to the top, and based on a user’s interactions with apps. Urgent messages will be delivered immediately, so important communications will not end up in the summary, and it’s possible to temporarily mute any app or messaging thread for the next hour or for the day.
On-Device Intelligence Powers Live Text and Visual Look Up
Live Text uses on-device intelligence to recognize text in a photo and allow users to take action. For example, users can search for and locate the picture of a handwritten family recipe, or capture a phone number from a storefront with the option to place a call.
With the power of the Apple Neural Engine, the Camera app can also be used to quickly recognize and copy text, such as the Wi-Fi password displayed at a local coffee shop.
With Visual Look Up, users can learn more about objects in their photos, with Apple citing examples such as ”popular art and landmarks around the world, plants and flowers found in nature, breeds of pets, and even find books.”
Live Text and Visual Look Up will be available system-wide on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.
Clearly these features should offer significant added value for blind and low vision users, so we will be keen to discover how Apple makes them work with VoiceOver and braille.
New Privacy Features
iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 introduce more privacy controls to help protect user information.
Mail Privacy Protection stops senders from using hidden elements in the email to learn whether an email has been opened, and hides IP addresses so senders can’t learn a user’s location or use it to build a profile on them.
A new App Privacy Report builds upon the App Tracking Transparency policies introduced in iOS 14.5 to offer an overview of how apps use the access that has been granted to location, photos, camera, microphone, and contacts in the last seven days, and which other domains are contacted.
Home Screen Customization comes to the iPad
iPadOS is to get the same Home screen customization features that came to iPhones, but not iPads, last year, including widgets that you can place on any Home screen page and the App Library.
Widgets on iPad will function much as they do on the iPhone, but Apple is making them more powerful with support for larger widgets and interaction for things like gaming, media, photos, and files.
Similarly, the App Library on iPad will function much as it does on iPhone, with one notable enhancement being that you will be able to access it from the Dock.
Like on iOS, iPad users will now also be able to hide Home Screen pages.
Updates to Multitasking on iPadOS
Many have found multitasking on the iPad to be a frustrating and far-from-intuitive experience since it launched in iOS 12, and Apple is now seeking to simplify things in iPadOS 15.
A new multitasking menu is intended to make it easier for iPad users to discover multitasking and use Split View or SlideOver. When you want to use two apps at the same time, Apple has also made it easier to get apps into the multitasking views. Now, when you select Split View, the current app will reveal the rest of the apps on your iPad so you can quickly select the one you want. There are also new keyboard shortcuts that help quickly access the menu.
There will also be a new Shelf that floats above the app you’re in to quickly jump between your open windows and paired apps. And finally, you’ll be able to drag app windows on top of each other in the overview screen to quickly open them in Split View.
It was difficult to determine from the video presentation exactly how the new multitasking system works, so hopefully written descriptions will become available over the coming days.
Enhancements to Notes
New to the Notes app is Quick Note, a new way for users to jot down notes on any app or website systemwide, making it easy to capture thoughts and ideas. Users can also add links from an app to their Quick Note to create context, even on a website in Safari or an address in Maps.
Quick Notes can be created and edited on iPadOS, but only viewed and created on iOS. The demo of this feature indicated that the Quick Note window ‘floats’ on top of the currently open app on iPadOS, making it another new feature that we'll be keen to discover how well it works with VoiceOver.
When working in shared Notes with friends or colleagues, you can now add mentions, see everyone’s edits in the new Activity View, and categorize their Notes with tags to quickly and easily find them in the new Tag Browser and in tag-based Smart Folders.
If you are sharing a note with others, they will receive a notification if you mention them in the note.
In addition to iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, the new Notes features will also be supported on macOS Monterey.
Health App Enhancements
The Health app is to gain new features in iOS 15.
A new metric called Walking Steadiness will give users a risk of falling assessment before a fall actually happens. You will also be able to view a history of this metric over time.
The Health app will also make it easier to understand lab reports received from practitioners.
Additionally, the Health app will present trends for health data in iOS 15. This will be similar to Activity trends available on Apple Watch, but these will include even more health metrics.
The final change coming to the Health app is the ability to share specific data points from the app with doctors or with family members. For the latter, Apple suggested the use cases of tracking health metrics of children or elderly relatives (with their permission).
Other App Changes
The iOS Weather app gets a redesign which Apple said includes more graphical displays of weather data, full-screen maps, and dynamic layouts that change based on conditions. There's also new animated backgrounds that more accurately reflect the sun's position and precipitation, and notifications highlight when rain or snow starts and stops.
Find My introduces new capabilities to help locate a device that has been turned off or erased, as well as live-streaming locations for family and friends who choose to share their location. Separation Alerts notify a user if they leave an AirTag, Apple device, or Find My network accessory behind in an unfamiliar location, and the Find My network now supports AirPods Pro and AirPods Max. A new Find My widget offers an at-a-glance view directly from the Home Screen.
Apple Maps is set to receive a number of enhancements, including enhanced details in cities for neighborhoods, commercial districts, elevation, and buildings; new road colors and labels; custom-designed landmarks; and a new night-time mode with a moonlit glow.
When navigating using iPhone or CarPlay, Maps features a three-dimensional city-driving experience with new road details that help users better see and understand important details like turn lanes, medians, bike lanes, and pedestrian crosswalks/
Transit riders can find nearby stations more easily and pin favorite lines. Maps automatically follows along with a selected transit route, notifying users when it’s nearly time to disembark.
The Apple TV app now features a new row titled “For All of You” — showcasing a collection of shows and movies based on the interests of selected people or an entire household, which Apple says should be perfect for movie nights.
iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 Tidbits
Here are some other features you can look forward to in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15:
- Spotlight now uses intelligence to search photos by location, people, scenes, or objects, and using Live Text, Spotlight can find text and handwriting in photos. Spotlight now offers web image search and all-new rich results for actors, musicians, TV shows, and movies. Enhanced results for contacts show recent conversations, shared photos, and even their location if shared through Find My.
- Siri will be able to handle a variety of requests without an Internet connection. This means requests like setting timers or switching apps can be performed without any communication with a server, making the experience faster and more responsive.
- Audio recorded by Siri will not leave the local device. This makes Siri more private and should likewise result in a smoother and faster user experience.
- Photos includes what Apple calls the biggest update ever to Memories, with a fresh new look, an interactive interface, and integration with Apple Music, which uses on-device intelligence to personalize song suggestions that are said to bring memories to life.
- Safari web browser extensions are coming to iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, meaning that iPhone and iPad will have access to the same web extensions available in Safari for Mac. Web browser extensions are typically used to add more features to a browser, such as ad blockers, VPNs, and password managers. Developers will now be able to create universal extensions that work on Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
- You will be able to add driver's license or state IDs to the Wallet app in iOS 15. This will be available in select states in the United States. If supported, you'll be able to scan your ID and store it directly in wallet.
- The Wallet is to gain support for using your iPhone to unlock your home, your garage, your hotel room, and even your workplace.
- The Translate app is coming to iPad. Launched on iOS last year, Translate lets users translate typed or dictated text, and it’s also available for webpages through Safari. With iOS 15 and iPadOS 15, Translate will work system-wide, such as in the Photos app - where it can translate text from images.
- Swift Playgrounds on iPadOS 15 will let you create iPhone and iPad apps from scratch and then deploy them to the App Store. What isn't yet clear, is how limited or not the development experience will be. Apple choosing not to rebrand this as ‘Xcode’, suggest that you aren’t going to be able to do everything you can do with Xcode on the Mac.
further Information on iOS 15 and iPadOS 15
- Apple preview page for iOS 15
- Apple preview page for iPadOS 15
- iOS and iPadOS 15: The MacStories Overview
macOS 11 Big Sur was a major update that introduced a new design and support for Apple Silicon, so it's perhaps unsurprising that the changes for 2021 are arguably less significant.
Safari on Mac Goes More Compact
Safari on Mac is to get a new and more streamlined look with macOS Monterey.
A new tab design lets users see more of the page as they scroll, whilst a new tab bar takes on the color of the webpage and combines tabs, the tool bar, and the search field into a single compact design.
Additionally, Tab Groups offer a new way to save and manage tabs, which Apple says makes a great way for planning trips, shopping, or storing the tabs users visit daily.
Tab Groups sync across Mac, iPhone, and iPad, so users can continue their project from anywhere and easily share tabs with friends and family.
Shortcuts Arrives on the Mac
Those looking to speed up routine tasks and improve productivity on Mac will be pleased to hear that the Shortcuts app is coming with macOS Monterey.
Just like on iPhone and iPad, Shortcuts on Mac will let you quickly accomplish tasks with the apps you use the most.
It will offer a gallery of pre-built actions designed just for Mac, whilst power users looking to take things further can use the Shortcuts Editor on Mac to customize shortcuts to match their workflows.
Shortcuts is integrated throughout macOS Monterey, including the menu bar, Finder, Spotlight, and even hands-free with Siri — making it easy to run shortcuts no matter which app the user is in. Users can easily import existing Automator workflows into Shortcuts and be up and running right away.
Universal Control is a new feature coming to the Mac and iPad that enables a single keyboard and mouse or trackpad to work seamlessly between your Mac and iPad — they’ll even connect to more than one Mac or iPad. Move your cursor from your Mac to your iPad, type on your Mac and watch the words show up on your iPad, or even drag and drop content from one Mac to another.
We'll be keen to discover how this functionality has been implemented, as from its description and demonstration it's hard to imagine it being easy to make work with VoiceOver.
macOS Monterey Tidbits
Here are some other features you can look forward to in macOS 12:
- TestFlight is coming to the Mac, meaning that developers will now have a quick and easy way to distribute pre-release versions of their software to public testers.
- macOS Monterey will let you use AirPlay to share, play, or present content from another Apple device to the screen of your Mac.
- The Mac is to gain a low power mode that will allow you to run a battery-powered Mac at a lower clock speed with a dimmer display, extending your Mac's battery life.
further Information on macOS Monterey
watchOS 8 appears to be a relatively minor refresh, with Apple giving it only a small amount of time in the keynote.
The notable new features and changes are:
- The Breathe app is to be updated and now called Mindfulness to reflect its focus on mental wellbeing.
- Support for tracking Tai Chi and Pilates workout styles is coming to Apple Watch. Apple said that the new workouts are supported by powerful custom-built heart rate and motion algorithms to provide users with accurate metrics. Apple Fitness+ is also gaining a few features in watchOS 8, including Picture in Picture support and new filtering options, as well as the ability to stop and resume an in-progress workout on any device.
- Respiratory rate will now be measured during sleep tracking.
- The Home app for Apple Watch has been redesigned, offering more convenient access to accessories and scenes as needed in a particular moment, and the ability to control accessories by room. Additionally, users with a HomeKit-enabled camera can view who is at their front door directly on their Apple Watch.
- Photo watch faces can now include depth using portrait mode photos.
- Photos app to gain featured highlights and memories.
- Photos can now be shared from the watch with Messages and Mail.
- Scribble now lets you include emoji in handwritten messages.
- App shelf in iMessage includes image search and quick access to photos.
- Find My now includes items.
- Weather includes next hour precipitation.
- Apple Watch can do multiple timers for the first time.
- Always-on display now works with Music, Maps, and Calculator on supported models.
- Tips app is now available on the Apple Watch.
- Music can be shared from Apple Watch via Messages.
further Information on watchOS 8
tvOS was the only platform not to have a dedicated preview in the keynote, but the following changes were mentioned while discussing other platforms:
- Support for Spatial Audio with AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.
- Lossless audio (coming later this year).
- HomePod mini can be used as speakers for the Apple TV.
- “Hey Siri” can be used to play content on the TV.
- A new “shared with you” section in the TV app displays content previously shared with the user.
And, What About Accessibility?
There was no mention during today's keynote of what might be coming this year for users of the accessibility features of Apple devices. However, Apple provided a preview of some upcoming enhancements last month as part of its marking of Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Consequently, we already know to expect expanded image recognition capabilities for VoiceOver users, AssistiveTouch for Apple Watch, new eye-tracking hardware support for iPad, new background sounds to help minimize distractions, and for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, Made for iPhone (MFi) is to gain support for new bi-directional hearing aids.
Other Keynote Tidbits
- Apple announced a new iCloud+ service with new features alongside iCloud storage. iCloud+ includes three new features:
- Private Relay - , all traffic leaving your device is encrypted and sent through two separate relays.
- Hide My Email is a new feature built into Mail, Safari, and other services and it allows you to randomized, unique emails that forward to your main account. This means you can hide your email from services for increased privacy.
- iCloud+ includes unlimited HomeKit Secure Video cameras. Currently, iCloud users are limited to five cameras per account, but this limit has been removed for iCloud+.
- AirPods will gain several improvements:
- A new Conversation Boost feature for AirPods is designed to help people with mild hearing challenges engage in conversation. It leverages computational audio and beamforming microphones to make it easier to hear.
- AirPods will work with the expanded Find My network, which includes AirTag. Using a secure Bluetooth beacon, AirPods will relay their location to Apple's network and back to the Find My app.
- AirPods in Find My will have proximity view so that users will find their specific location more easily. And users can send a "chirp" to the headphones that will also help locate them, available when AirPods are in their case or without.
- AirPods will gain support for a separation alert, which will prompt users if they leave their AirPods somewhere.
- AirPods will gain support for Spatial Audio in tvOS 15.
- AirPods and iOS 15 will be able to announce notifications in addition to messages to users. This will integrate with the new notification control and customization settings.
- Siri is coming to third-party HomeKit devices, meaning that you will be able to directly control devices such as smart thermostats. No details or further examples were given during the keynote, but it’s likely to be via an MFi-style licensing scheme.
- HomePod mini will be available later this year in Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, and Italy. With HomePod Software 15.0 and iOS 15, users will receive support for Siri in the languages of these respective countries.
- Apple has announced that later this year you will be able to personalize your iCloud Mail address with a custom domain name, and invite family members to use the same domain with their iCloud Mail accounts.
Apple crammed a lot into today's keynote. There's also a lot more that didn't make it into the presentations, and is now being mentioned by Apple elsewhere. Consequently, what we've given above is not a complete overview of everything that's coming this year. We'll update this post with links to comprehensive summaries once they become available over the coming days.
We look forward to hearing your own thoughts. What are you most, or least, excited about from today's announcements? What did Apple not do that you hoped they would? Do the upcoming software upgrades make you want to try a new device? Share your thoughts by posting a comment below.